Video Essay: “How Time Travel Works”


About halfway through Looper , Rian Johnson’s electrifying new time travel actioner, Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who play the same man thirty years apart, sit at a diner and try to hash out their situation. The younger version of “Joe” starts asking questions about how his actions will affect his elder version, particularly now that they’re both in the same place, but before that conversation can get anywhere, Willis shuts it down: “If we start talking about it, we’re gonna be here all day, talking about it, makin’ diagrams with straws.”

It’s a fair point: it seems like every time travel movie — and there are plenty of them — is required to throw in a scene where some egghead tosses around a lot of jargon about the “space-time continuum” or something in order to explain how time travel works. Other movies keep it simpler: “This is what makes time travel possible: the flux capacitor!” Whatever your preference, we’ve pulled clips from over two dozen time travel movies to present this month’s video essay, “How Time Travel Works.”

How Time Travel Works from Flavorwire on Vimeo.

CREDITS Edited by Jason Bailey Music by Edvard Grieg

FILMS (in alphabetical order): 12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995) Austin Powers in Goldmember (Jay Roach, 2002) Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (Jay Roach, 1999) Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985) Back to the Future Part II (Robert Zemeckis, 1989) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Robert Zemeckis, 1989) The Butterfly Effect (Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber, 2004) Déjà Vu (Tony Scott, 2006) Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001) Escape from the Planet of the Apes (Don Taylor, 1971) The Final Countdown (Don Taylor, 1980) Hot Tub Time Machine (Steve Pink, 2010) The Jacket (John Maybury, 2005) My Science Project (Jonathan R. Betuel, 1985) Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Ford Coppola, 1986) The Philadelphia Experiment (Stewart Raffill, 1984) Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004) Somewhere in Time (Jeannot Szwarc, 1980) Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Leonard Nimoy, 1986) The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) Time After Time (Nicholas Meyer, 1979) Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, 1981) The Time Machine (George Pal, 1960) The Time Machine (Simon Wells, 2002) Timecop (Peter Hyams, 1994) Timecrimes (Nacho Vigalondo, 2007)

Check out our previous video essays: “The 75 Coolest-Looking Prohibition-Era Movie Characters” “The Trippiest Movies Ever Made” “Faces: 105 of Cinema’s Most Beautiful Close-Ups” “135 Shots That Will Restore Your Faith in Cinema” “All of Woody’s Surrogates” “Wes Anderson’s Favorite New York Movies” “Threequel: Even More Famous Faces in their Film Debuts” “The Semi-Obligatory Lyrical Interlude (A Case Study)” “Encore: More Famous Faces in their Film Debuts” “Watching the Detectives: Our Favorite Movie Private Eyes” “And Introducing…: Famous Faces in their Film Debuts” “The Martin Scoresese Film School” “How to Pull the Perfect Movie Heist” “Being Denzel Washington”